When Madonna hit Vancouver last September she took a predictable jab at Lady Gaga, pointing out the similarity between her own “Express Yourself” and her rival’s “Born This Way,” singing the latter over her original, before labouring the point by coldly repeating “She’s not me!”

Madonna remains an obvious starting point for any discussion of Lady Gaga, but it’s still a worthy comparison. Because on last night’s evidence, as Gaga began the North American leg of her Born This Way Ball World Tour in the cosy confines of Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, the reign of the Grand Old Dame of Pop is officially over.

It wasn’t so much that Gaga has a tremendous arsenal of songs at her disposal. Madonna’s small army of collaborators still give her the advantage in that department. But in terms of performance, musicianship, vocals, charisma and most importantly, ideas, Lady Gaga has left her one-time inspiration far behind.

Where Madonna was icy and distant, Gaga was welcoming and charming.

“I don’t want to be a queen,” she insisted, as she emerged midway through the night tinkling a spike-covered piano. “I want to be your friend.

“I was a waitress five years ago. I could barely afford to see anything live. So thanks for coming out tonight.”

Of course, there’s a major league ego existing alongside that appreciation for the fans, ably illustrated by the three-story, 40-foot high castle on stage that opened up to reveal her band after a masked Gaga entered riding a dancer-powered mechanical unicorn. Confident enough to throw “Born This Way” into the fold three songs in (Madonna was right, it does sound like “Express Yourself”), Gaga was taking fashion risks too, emerging for “Bloody Mary” with what looked like an upside-down bedpan on her head, wheeling around like a dalek in a wedding dress. She upped the camp factor immediately after, emerging from a giant egg (or possibly a rugby ball) for “Bad Romance,” her ripped male dancers all fine advertisements for the benefits of jockey shorts.

The blitzkrieg of sights and sounds was unrelenting, Gaga donning an origami dress for “Just Dance,” another floor shaker that finished with an unexpected shred from her superb guitarist. For “Boys Boys Boys” she emerged with an exaggerated Statue of Liberty crown, punctuating the applause at its end by blowing kisses to the crowd, before announcing, “F***, I love being famous!”

Gaga was happy to generate laughs. Rolling out on a motor trike for “Heavy Metal Lover” was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Metal’s greatest gay icon, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. But she could play it serious too, as she did during the best section of the show, when she took to the piano, gave her dancers time off, and rocked out with her band through “The Queen” and “You and I”.

She then took the opportunity to phone a shocked fan in the audience, explaining to the understandably freaked out Nicole that by answering her call, they’d instantly raised $10,000 for youngsters made homeless because they’d come out to their parents. Gaga repeatedly encouraged everyone present to make a difference in the fight against bullying and discrimination, punctuating her point with a tremendous solo piano and vocal slice of “Born This Way.”

So-called ‘controversial’ moments, an interracial gay wedding during “Americano” and Gaga in a replica meat dress being put into a grinder for “Poker Face,” made genuine political points, a courageous stand few musicians in any genre are willing to take these days.

The two-way connection between Gaga and her fans was both unique and inspiring. Dragging five Little Monsters on stage for the finale of “Marry The Night,” Gaga stood alongside them as she related an amazing story about her very first gig in a New York bar and her misadventures since.

“They said you’re not pretty enough. You’re too weird. It’s too gay. Then one day I opened my eyes, there were 15,000 people in Vancouver.”

The cheers were as much for Gaga’s personal and communal triumph as they were for the music. It was a deserved climax to a dazzling night. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen. 

Lady Gaga plays Rogers Arena again tonight.